One of the definite “must try” items on my food list for my Asia trip was to try Singapore Chili Crab in, you guessed it, Singapore. Having tried it at Banana Leaf in Vancouver, I really wanted to try the real thing in the country where it was reportedly invented. Jenkins’ cousin was actually doing an exchange program at the National University of Singapore. Although she finished her term and left right before we arrived, I was still able to get a pretty good list of food recommendations from her. She suggested that we roam the Geylang Road district for some good chili crab. We were a bit skeptical because we knew that the Geylang district was also Singapore’s red light district but we figured we may as well give it a try.
I did some research before our trip and found out that a place called No Signboard Seafood was pretty popular for chili crab but that in recent years, it had become quite touristy and not as good as before so I decided to stay away from it. Another option was Roland’s, which is where chili crab was supposedly invented, but it was too far away for us since we were relying on public transit. In the Chowhound forums, I found a few recommendations for a place just a few blocks down Geylang Road from No Signboard called the House of Steamed Fish. It seemed to be fairly popular so Jenkins and I decided to give it a try.
Jenkins and I arrived with only chili crab on our minds but decided to give the menu a quick look anyway just in case. While we perused the menu, we ordered a couple of glasses of cold chrysanthemum tea, which was just the thing that we needed to cool off from the sweltering 32°C heat outside. It was just slightly sweetened and very concentrated, which we liked a lot.
Before we get on with the star of the show, the boring stuff came first. Jenkins and I felt that we had been neglecting our veggie intake during our trip so we decided to order some stir-fried baby gai lan with garlic with our meal. I actually really liked the baby gai lan, which was crunchy and slightly bitter, tasting almost more like brussel sprouts than gai lan. It was funny that I liked this because I’m not usually a fan of brussel sprouts but it was really made quite well, retaining a lot of crunch and with a lot of garlicky flavour.
The chili crab arrived shortly after we polished off the veggies. It was quite a large crab (almost 3 pounds) despite the fact that we asked the owner to keep the size small. I’m not sure if it was because all their crabs were this size. Wisely, we also ordered some white rice to eat with the crab and its saucy goodness. We didn’t find the crab to be overly spicy but had a nice hint of it along with a tomato-based chili sauce. The egg rounded out the sauce and although I can’t pinpoint exactly what it brought, I feel like something would have been missing if it wasn’t there.
I liked how the sauce wasn’t overly sweet, which often seemed to be the case with the versions I tried in Vancouver and I enjoyed how it was more of a savoury, spicy dish. My only complaint was that I wish the crab had been fried beforehand so that the crab shell was not so soft and therefore difficult to crack open. I also feel that pre-frying may help the crab retain some juiciness but preference may be due to the way I’m used to crab being prepared in Vancouver. I’m not sure if this method of preparation is a regular occurrence or just due to the way it was made at the House of Steamed Fish.
Despite my minor complaint, you can see below that Jenkins and I had no problem finishing off the entire crab even though we thought the owner had given us one that was too large for two people. Obviously, she was a pro at picking out the appropriate size for her customers. We left quite the aftermath behind us but the staff at House of Steamed Boat is obviously experienced with diners such as us because they kept us supplied with several wet naps and bowls of rinsing water throughout our meal.
Our chili crab dinner was definitely our most expensive meal in Singapore, with our entire meal working out to about $40 CAD but still fairly cheap by Canadian standards. We had a great meal and I would say that Singapore crab is really one of those “must do” items when you are visiting. Jenkins and I left satisfied and used our long walk back to our hotel to work off our filling meal.
671 Geylang Road, Singapore
(Paya Lebar MRT stop)